Homeschool Q&A with Chelsey

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Mamas, we are in difficult times.

As we prepare for Summer to end and back to school to begin, there are big decisions to be made about our school age children.

Most school districts have made decisions about whether they will open and have started to share how they will be accommodating teachers and students. But now, it’s on you to decide what the best choice is for you family.

This post is not a debate of whether you should or shouldn’t send your child back to school. I am so grateful that we have the freedom to choose.

This post is to share my experience with choosing to homeschool prior to COVID19 and maybe help any of you that might be considering homeschool as your choice too.

I am going to jump right in with some Q&A I have received from my instagram messages!

Q. Why did you decide to homeschool? 

We had very personal reasons for choosing to homeschool. I don’t feel like the details matter but I can share how we made the decision.

When my oldest son Gabriel was in 1st grade I was sitting in church and heard the Spirit whisper to me ‘you need to homeschool’. This had never ever crossed my mind so I thought it was completely strange and blew it off.

A few months go by and I hear it again. By the time Gabriel started second grade, Heavenly Father had made it real clear this was something He wanted from me and I made it real clear that I was not interested. But by the end of second grade, I finally gave up my fight and said yes.

My husband wasn’t on board. He thought I was crazy and wasn’t supportive. I pushed forward, made a plan, told him we needed to give it a trial run and he agreed to the trial run over the Summer. After the trail was over, he saw the progress we had made and encouraged me to keep going so we anxiously started 3rd grade as a homeschool family.

I share this so you know that I had no intention of homeschooling, I had no clue where to start and it took me two years of saying ‘no’ to a prompting before I even agreed.

Q. How do you work and homeschool? Don’t you also have a toddler? What do you do with him?

It has taken a lot of trial and error to find a schedule that works for us. We have changed routines at least a dozen times or more. I have spent a great deal of time researching ideas and testing things that work for all of us. My best advice is for you to do your own trial and error testing.

Let me give you an example. When we started our first week of homeschool I thought we could sit down and knock out two or three hours of school first thing in the morning and then be done for the rest of the day. If your homeschool looks like this, I am super jealous, keep rocking it mama.

But this didn’t happen for us. My oldest son’s attention span is a max of about 15 minutes. Even with with short breaks, doing school in a set block like this just wasn’t working. I ended up yelling, Gabriel was frustrated and I think we both ended up throwing books. I switched it up and we finally found a routine that works for both of us.

As for Connor, who is three years old, I try to have him at the table with us when we do ‘curriculum’. I like having both of the boys at the table so I can work with both of them easily. Connor doesn’t always want to sit still so if it’s one of those days, then I just let him play while we work. I use The Good and The Beautiful Pre K Curriculum with Connor as well have a list of activities he can do with minimal supervision like coloring, painting, play dough, etc.

Working at home while homeschooling is a difficult challenge but there are also a lot of rewarding benefits too. I get the majority of my focused worked done during ‘quiet time’ that we have designated right after lunch in our routine. I also bring my work to the table when we are during curriculum,  so if both boys are working independently and I have a few moments to check emails or post on social media I will. The second block of time that is important for me is in the evening when the kids play outside. I bring my laptop outside and use this time to work on projects. And then I am always searching for nooks of time when I can.

Each day of the week is different for us but I like it that way. I am sharing a ‘typical’ Monday routine in my free download that shows you how to create your own schedule to help you conquer overwhelm. You can learn more about my signature process Fierce Foundations here.

I want to highlight ‘typical’ because there are plenty of days where we ditch the routine, go exploring or travel and there are even times where I have a deadline and I spend most of the day working. I lean toward a Type A personality which is why I love a clear and defined schedule (the one you see here) but the creative in me loves flexibility and freedom so we are always open for adventure!

Q. What curriculum do you use? 

When I decided to homeschool this was my first question. I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest in curriculum (some of it can get expensive quickly) since I was only giving it a trial run and I was grateful to find that so many homeschool parents don’t even use curriculum.

However as a newbie,  I found curriculum to be extremely helpful. Now that we have a year of homeschool under us, I can see why seasoned homeschool parents don’t stress as much over specific curriculum. You can create your own, that fits each of your children and it doesn’t necessarily need to be structured curriculum.

I have tried a few different curriculums and looked at dozens of other homeschool mom’s curriculum. I think finding what works for you and your children is trial and error so do some research and then pick something. Give it a try and see how it fits.

Here is our curriculum for this year (August 2020 to August 2021) for my son Gabriel who is a 4th grader.

Language Arts
The Good and The Beautiful (Level 1 – 5 is a Free Download)
Brave Writer (Purchased Arrow Subscription)

History
The Good and The Beautiful (Purchased History Level 1)

Math
The Good and The Beautiful (Purchased Math Level 4)
Easy Peasy
Kahn Academy

Science
The Good and The Beautiful (Marine Unit is Free)
The Good and The Beautiful (Purchased Meteorology, Weather & Atmosphere)
The Good and The Beautiful (Purchased Arthropods)
Science Experiments
Kiwi Crate Monthly Subscription

Writing
Learning Without Tears: Cursive Kickoff
The Good and The Beautiful (Creative Writing 1 & 2 Notebooks)

Additional Notes
The Good and The Beautiful is on my list for almost every subject because I love this curriculum. It is by far the best curriculum that I have tried because it has limited prep for me as the teacher, the lessons are simple and short yet effective and the books really are beautiful. The quality and value of these products are worth every single penny. Plus they offer a lot of freebies too! All of the products listed above cost me about $200.

The subjects I listed above are our core subjects. We also allow time for additional subjects that I will describe in more detail below.

Personal Development 
I love personal development. It’s something that I value and want to teach my children. I consider this part of our curriculum and on a ‘typical’ homeschool day we always include time to grow and develop our mindset. We spend a few minutes reading from a personal development book (I listed a few of my favorites for kiddos below), talking about our goals, and writing down affirmations.

Diary of a Brilliant Kid: Top Secret Guide to Awesomeness
Growth Mindset Activities for Kids
The 7 Habits of Happy Kids

Spanish
I have a decent foundation of Spanish and eventually would love to be fluent. I enjoy sharing this language with my kids and we use a variety of resources to learn together. One of my favorite finds last year was at the Target dollar spot. They had classic books like ‘Little Red Riding Hood” that had English and Spanish on each page. They also had a few workbooks that we have loved using to learn our basics. Flashcards, Duolingo and Youtube are also amazing resources!

Unit Studies
I adore unit studies. This is how my mind naturally works! I love picking a topic and dedicating time to diving deep into the subject. Pinterest is an incredible resource for Unit Studies that are already created for you. Last year a few of our favorite unit studies were based around geographic locations and science because that is what Gabriel is most interested in right now. We studied Poland before we traveled there last November! We did a unit study on Greece because my son was really interested in the honeymoon I was planning for a couple in Greece and when he learned that my husband Clayton had lived there! We completed a unit study on Sharks, Dinosaurs, and Electricity! Unit studies are a fun way to learn any subject!

Computer + Typing 
This year I am introducing computer skills and typing. My son is really interested in robots, inventions and learning how to code so I want to help him develop these skills. My degree in college was Management Information Systems so I enjoy writing code and think it’s a great skill to have. I also think its important for him to learn how to type as well as use the computer safely for his education.

Other Resources we Love
Outschool.com
Khan Academy
Usborne Books
Bedtime Math
GoNoodle
Code.org

Q. How many hours do you homeschool per day?  

I remember asking this same question when we first started. I wanted to know how much of my time I was going to have to ‘give up’ to accommodate being a teacher. Over the past year my view on the time we spend on ‘homeschool’ has changed. Technically we spend about three hours on curriculum. But I have really shifted my mindset from ‘we do school for this many hours’ to ‘we are living and learning together everyday’. You can download a free copy of our typical Monday at home here.

Q. Are there any books you recommend that would help me homeschool? 

Yes! I am an ambitious reader and have read so amazing books that have helped me through our homeschool journey. Here are a few of my favorites!

The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning and Life

Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace

The Call of the Wild and Free: Reclaiming Wonder in Your Child’s Education

Better Together: Strengthen Your Family, Simplify School and Savor the Subjects that Matter Most

The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind

Q. What does your homeschool room look like?
We don’t have a homeschool room. I knew early on that I didn’t want to replicate school at home so we use a variety of locations to learn. I love for all of us to be at our dining room table, especially in the mornings. We love to learn outside, Gabriel spends a lot of time on the living room floor, we even learn in boxes made into spaceships and I encourage reading in the tent in our playroom or a creative fort that Gabriel built during his playtime.

Q. How do you stay organized?
This has taken some trial and error to find a system that works for me. I just recently changed my organization system again so I am still testing it out to see how I like it. But here is what we have landed on right now.

I have 5 ‘Boxes’ in my kitchen. I cleared out an entire side of kitchen cabinets and turned it into our ‘homeschool’ station.

  1. Teacher Box
  2. Gabriel’s Box
  3. Connor’s Box
  4. Activities Box
  5. Curriculum Box

In my Teacher Box I have my binder, a blank notebook that I use for adding ‘to do’ items or  notes, and any books I am reading for our read aloud, poetry time or personal development.

In Gabriel’s Box he has his binder, a blank notebook that he uses to do his assignments, and anything else he might be working on. At the end of the day we toss it in the box.

In Connor’s Box he has his Pre K curriculum plus a few books and any other resources I might be using with him for the month.

In the Activities Box I have easy access to coloring books, art resources, games, books and anything that I might use to entertain Connor while I spend one on one time with Gabriel.

In the Curriculum Box I keep any notebooks, books or games related to our curriculum. Most of the items in here are the things I have purchased from The Good and The Beautiful.

My ‘teacher’ binder includes:

  1. Mission Statement
  2. Core Values
  3. Ideas for What We Will Learn This Year
  4. The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto by Brene Brown
  5. Goals for the Year
  6. List of Brain Breaks
  7. Well Educated Heart Yearly Rotation Plan
  8. Weekly + Daily Checklist
  9. Monthly Overview
  10. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Grade 4
  11. Personal Development

Mission Statement 
Lara Casey has a beautiful free homeschool planner and I found it really helpful to write down ‘why we homeschool and our big picture goal’. On the hard days, I come back to this and remind myself of why I made this decision.

This was my mission statement that I wrote in January of this year. I will continue to update this as we start each new season.

We homeschool because Heavenly Father asked us to. We want to not only provide the best academic education but also a well educated heart. We want to build attachment, connection and love in our relationship. We want to learn more about the love and example of Jesus Christ and live it daily. Gabriel is a special child with unique circumstances who we believe has a wonderful plan for him created by God. He deserves a unique, personal and customized plan so that he can excel as not only a student but a child of God. We value the homeschool lifestyle of togetherness and simplicity. We homeschool because despite some challenges, our hearts tell us this is the right choice for our family, confirmed with the peace that only the Holy Ghost provides. We value being a team and living and learning together. We want to travel the world and share experiences as a family. We desire to inspire a love of learning and to explore this beautiful life together. We homeschool because we are called to provide a loving and nurturing environment for learning and for living. 

Core Values
The homeschool planner also has a place to write down your Core Values and list what is important to you. Here is our Core Value list. I wrote these but discussed them with Gabriel as we prepared to start the new year.

Love
Kindness
Curiosity
Delight
Wonder
Celebration
Joy
Thoughtfulness
Courage
Compassion
Play
Rest
Gratitude

Laughter
Dancing
Worthiness
Discipline
Create
Reading
Patience
Trust
Family
Imagination
Passion
Nature

Ideas for What We Will Learn This Year
The homeschool planner also has a page that allows you to list “ideas for what we will learn this year”. Gabriel and I sat down at the first of the year and we discussed some of the things he wanted to do more of this year. Here is his list.

Learn how to Build a Robot
Explore More Outside
Travel
Build Forts
Go to the Park
Math Games
Giving to Others
Neighborhood Knock + Runs for Service
Field Trips
Play Games with Mom
Learn More about Bugs

The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto by Brene Brown
I read all of Brene Brown’s books last year and found this free download on her website. I love reading this out loud to Gabriel. We don’t read it every day but if we are struggling or I need to be redirected I love coming back to this. It is beautifully written for parents whether you homeschool or not.

Goals for the Year
In the homeschool planner, I love that Lara Casey includes a page for Goals. She breaks it down to six goals per page and I ended up printing a few pages to accommodate the goals we set for Gabriel. Here are a few examples of our goals for 3rd grade.

Goal: Memorize times table.
Why: It’s a building block to higher learning math and you will use in your daily life and job.

Goal: Read fluently and enjoy reading.
Why: Be a confident reader and you can learn anything you want.

Goal: Read a clock and tell time.
Why: Helps us understand the passage of time, the value of time and to know what time it is. 

List of Brain Breaks
I watched a fantastic presentation by Joshua MacNeil that has become a really helpful tool for us. He wrote a book called 101 Brain Breaks that is a great resource. Gabriel needs a lot of breaks. It was extremely frustrating for me when we first started and I now have a really clear understanding of what his teachers were struggling with when he was in a classroom. These quick breaks truly do help him and get us back to learning. Gabriel can choose to take a brain break at anytime. Each one is meant to take 3 to 5 minutes. This is the list that I printed and Gabriel also has a copy of the list in his binder.

Rocking (Rocking Chair or Rocking Movement)
Healing Touch (Ask for a Hug or Snuggles)
Stretch or Yoga Pose
Sucking (Ask for a Sucker)
Music (Ask to Play Music)
Deep Breathing
Nature Sounds (How Many Sounds Can You Identify Outside)
Scent Scavenger Hunt (How Many Smells Can You Find)
Walk, Run or  Exercise
Art
Dance
Sit Next to Me (Ask to Do your Work Sitting Next to Me)
One on One (Tell Me You Would Like One on One Attention)

Well Educated Heart Yearly Rotation Plan
I found this group on Facebook and it has been such an uplifting and encouraging group. Marlene Peterson has a unique perspective on education and I have loved learning from her. The Well Educated Heart is not a curriculum but the resources here are incredible. We use the Yearly Rotation Plan to discuss new topics each month and some of the topics we will use as a unit study.

Weekly + Daily Checklist
I love a good checklist. They help me stay focused and productive with my day. I have a daily routine that shows an overview of our day (you can download a free copy of our typical Monday routine here) and allows me to check off what was completed.

I also have a weekly ‘checklist’ that is blank. I found that preparing too far in advance didn’t work for me. Something would come up like a deadline at work or an opportunity to travel and it would throw off the entire ‘planned’ schedule. I know a lot of homeschool moms that plan for the entire year and follow it fairly religiously. But this just didn’t work for me so I changed it up and I really like this system.

Instead, I do a few days at a time and also make note of the days that won’t be ‘typical’ so it allows for our curriculum to be really flexible. Does that mean that I don’t know when we will actually finish our school year? Yes, it does. But I am ok with that. I love the concept of learning all year and if we have to “do school” a few weekends or extend ‘curriculum’ time one day because we traveled all week and didn’t get it done, that works for me!

Monthly Overview
I love to create a yearly overview for my life and decided it might help me with our homeschool too. Basically it’s just an overview of each month at a glance for the entire year. Here is a free download you can use.

A few things I like to include here is to look ahead at events that might be happening or trips we have planned. For example, I know Shark Week on Discovery starts in August this year so I am going to plan our Shark Unit Study in August.

Before COVID19 when we had so many activities at our fingertips,  I included things that we might attend. For example I might check out what locations have a homeschool day. Places like NASA, BRIT, the Zoo all have homeschool days that offer discounted pricing and special educational presentations!

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Grade 4
This has been a great resource for me. You can google it for any grade and print a PDF file. If you don’t live in Texas, I would check your state and see if they have something similar. I do not follow this 100% but it was a really good outline of what my son would be learning at a Texas public school. It helped us set our goals for the year and gave me some ideas of what we could be studying. If anything, it’s a good place to start to see what is being taught in your public school for your child’s age.

Personal Development
I shared above that personal development is really important to me and it’s a skill that I wish I would have started much earlier in life. For my ‘teacher’ binder I include things that I find that I want to personally work on during our “power hour” which is what I call our time dedicated to mindset growth. I like to print them out and have them easily accessible in my binder. A few websites I love to print from are:

Brendon Burchard
Brene Brown
Cultivate What Matters
Mothers University

Q. Any other tips you could share about having a successful homeschool year?

You are Capable. Advice that was told to me that I didn’t believe in the beginning was that I was capable and had everything I needed to teach my child. If I can remind you of anything it would be this. You can do this mama!

Remember to Celebrate. One thing that I see so many mothers do is feel like they are failing. And when you add homeschool to your agenda it can often be one more thing that you feel like you are failing at. Mama I see you and I hear you. But there is a way out of this mindset and it’s simple, easy and fun. You need to be celebrating daily. Print out one of my free celebration journal sheets. Celebrate those tiny wins and small accomplishments everyday. By seeing these small wins you will gain the confidence you need to keep moving forward.

Lots of Grace. You are going to need to give yourself a lot of grace. Be patient with yourself and your child(ren) as you navigate your journey of homeschool.

Have Fun. What are you passionate about learning? Start there and have some fun together! Do you love games? Use them! My sister in law is a game enthusiast and she has some of the coolest educational games that she plays with her kids to learn. I love to travel so we spend a lot of time learning about other countries! Make time for things you enjoy and have some fun!

Outsource. Do you hate science? Ask a high school student to help your child with science experiments. Not great at math? Find a teacher online that can teach your child so you can avoid stressful lessons. Join a co op that teaches writing once a month. If you need help, get creative and find ways to outsource learning.

Community. Be sure to connect with other homeschool mamas! Whether online through facebook groups or in person at a co op. Having women that understand your struggles and can support and encourage you is

Relax. I know it can be stressful to make the decision to homeschool. You may feel like you don’t want to ‘mess this up’.

Mamas, there are so many more things that we could chat about homeschool but I hope this overview is a great resource for you and can encourage you.

If you have additional questions, please send me a message on Instagram or feel free to email me at chelsey@chelseyarnal.com and I am happy to answer your questions!

Thoughtfully, Chelsey